How to Construct a Fantasy Language

Constructing a language by yourself isn’t difficult. OK, no that’s a lie. It can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. You don’t necessarily have to know all the rules involved with grammar or phonetics or morphology. You can create a language based on word patterns, simple systems that are easy to follow, or even sounds you hear throughout the day.

But if you want to create your own language for your writing that actually does follow these rules, it is possible to learn the basics by yourself. Just think of each of the major aspects of language as puzzle pieces. Here are the first steps to constructing your own language.

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The Alphabet and Phonology

Like anyone learning a new language, you start with the alphabet. Obviously, you don’t need to be a linguist to know how to make one, and you can be incredibly creative with it. Sometimes languages will have the “Latin alphabet” version of the letters (so it’s clear what letters mean what) and the additional, created symbols you made on your own for the written system. It then lays the groundwork for how a language is both written and spoken. Here’s the famous example of Quenya by J. R. R. Tolkien below.

Next are the sounds, the aspects of your language that make up what’s called the phonology of your language system. Be creative with this as well. What do you want your language to sound like? Do you want it to sound alien or unfamiliar? Do you want it to sound fluid? Take a look at other languages and see where you want the sound inspiration to come from. To get you started, here’s the Wikipedia article for the IPA, or International Phonetic Alphabet. This contains many speech sounds and letters from multiple languages that use the Latin script. It also, importantly, explains the types of consonants and vowels, including what part of the mouth or throat you use to form and speak the letters. There’s a lot of different terms, but knowing where your sounds come from will affect how your language is spoken.

Now you can start working on your vocabulary now that you know what you want your language to sound like and what letters are included. Start with the basic, most useful words. Often, when learning a new language, you start by learning the words used in basic conversation, such as “hello,” “how are you,” “please and thank you,” and more. Then begin working on other common words that you would use often. For reference, here’s a list of the most common English words to get you started on your translating. Stick with the basic vocabulary for now, though, because next comes grammar.

The Grammar and Tense

Time to establish the grammar rules. Before you have a flashback to elementary school, remember that your language has to have rules if you want it to be convincing. But you don’t have to apply all the grammar rules you know (you can even make up your own!). Begin with the parts of speech because these are the puzzle pieces needed for the syntax you create later on. Here’s a list of the parts of speech you use every day when you speak:

Nouns – the classic “person, place, thing, or idea”

Verbs – the part of the sentence performing the action

Pronouns – the person or thing mentioned specifically (he, she, it, etc.)

Adjectives – the part of speech describing/modifying the noun (and more)

Adverbs – the part of speech describing/modifying the verb (and more)

Prepositions – a part of speech that relates to a clause or phrase in the sentence

Conjunctions – a part of speech that connects clauses and phrases to the rest of the sentence

And of course, there’s more to sentences than just these. But let’s move on to the tense. The tense is when something happens in a sentence, and the word ending typically changes when the tense changes. For example, think of the word jump. Jump is the present tense, jump(ed) is past, and (will) jump is future. There’s plenty of other tenses that affect a word, so here’s a list of tenses.

The Syntax

Lastly, start putting everything together. Work on the syntax, or the way the words in your language work together to form a sentence. This is where the subject (the part that’s performing the action), the verb (word describing the action), and object (what the action is being done to) come in.

How do you want your sentences to be constructed? Languages around the world construct their sentences differently. For example, English typically follows the SVO order in syntax (Subject Verb Object). However, others follow SOV (Subject Object Verb) or VOS (Verb Object Subject). Get creative and decide what pattern you want to try, then start putting the pieces together.

You now have the pieces that allows you to create a flowing conversation, as well as the beginning of a writing and speaking system. With the rules in place, your constructed language will begin to sound real, which adds a lot of credibility to your worldbuilding. I might write a post on how constructing a language affects worldbuilding now that I think about it, so keep an eye out for that! Until then, keep writing!

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